Everyone copes with anxiety and stress differently. Some people overeat. Others become overly emotional. And some individuals subconsciously clench and grind their teeth to relieve stress. Teeth grinding and clenching is called bruxism. While bruxism usually occurs at night when people are asleep, a small percentage of the population suffers from daytime bruxism, which is also known as diurnal bruxism.
What is Daytime Bruxism?
Like nighttime (nocturnal) bruxism, daytime bruxism is associated with teeth grinding and clenching. Most people don’t realize they are grinding and clenching their teeth — the act is an automatic and often chronic response to stress. Over time, this repetitive pressure can fracture or crack the teeth, wear away at tooth enamel, and lead to painful headaches, jaw pain, misalignment and even earaches.
Causes of Teeth Grinding
The causes of nocturnal bruxism vary. Some people grind their teeth at night to soothe themselves from pain (young children often grind their teeth to relieve teething pain). Others grind their teeth in response to nightmares. Overwhelmingly, though, daytime bruxism occurs in response to extreme stress. Police officers, military personnel and individuals whose careers are high-stakes and extremely deadline-oriented are most prone to developing daytime bruxism. People who are extremely competitive or have problems controlling their anger are also prone to daytime teeth clenching and grinding. These individuals clench their teeth to relieve stress..
Treatment Options for Bruxism
When daytime bruxism is caused by chronic anxiety or anger, research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help. Many individuals find that being aware of the emotions that trigger teeth grinding and clenching (and being aware of the damage it can cause) is enough to help them stop the behavior. For others, anti-anxiety medications in combination with CBT can help. For nighttime bruxism, dental night guards are the gold standard of treatment. Not only do they help retrain the jaw muscles and make grinding the teeth difficult, they provide a barrier that protects the teeth from damage.
The first step in addressing any bad habit is to acknowledge it. Mindfulness is especially critical in treating daytime bruxism, because sufferers have the ability to identify what they’re doing and stop it. Behavior modification is a process. Over time, most daytime bruxism sufferers learn to substitute one stress response for another. Instead of grinding their teeth, for example, they may pop a stick of gum into their mouth. Awareness is key.
Meta: Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, can seriously damage your teeth and lead to jaw problems. Wearing a mouthguard at night can help even with daytime bruxism.